How To Start A Sales Conversation (& How Not To)
You’d like to open the sale. You’d like to appeal to the prospect so they’ll take your call. Here are five examples of how NOT to start a sales conversation:
The Wrong Way To Start A Sales Talk
“Yeah, hi, this is Deb with PFPS, you know, the company that builds organizational strength by putting people first…”
“Hey, hi Bob, how are you today? I see you’re a Packers fan…”
“Bob, thanks for taking my call. Are you the person who makes decisions about training?”
“Hi Bob, this is Deb. Do you have just a few minutes for me to tell you about an exciting opportunity?”
“Hi Bob, I know you’re busy, but we’re reaching out to let you know about…”
In all five examples, you’ve already lost the buyer. Their anti-seller force field has been activated by your opening line.
The Right Way To Start A Sales Talk
Here’s a field-tested and proven-to-be effective template for opening a conversation that buyers think is interesting. They will give you more time if you follow this template, developed by People First Productivity Solutions (PFPS). It includes six parts.
Make it very brief. Do not use anything but your name and company name. At this point, it’s all irrelevant to this buyer. “Hi, Bob, my name is Deb and I’m with PFPS” is sufficient.
Thank the buyer for taking your call. Don’t apologize or minimize with statements like “I know you’re busy.” These suggest that even you don’t see the value of talking more with you. Instead, simply say “Thank you for taking my call.” This triggers the law of reciprocity – we all want to give something back when we receive something. You’ve given appreciation, and the buyer will reciprocate with just a little more time to hear what you have to say.
Yours, not the company’s. And certainly not the product’s. Give a brief reason about why the prospect should talk with YOU vs. other sellers. Do not recite your entire resume. Pick one reason that’s relevant to this buyer. It would be something like “I’ve helped dozens of sales teams reach and exceed their goals.”
Segue into something about this buyer. Not about this buyer using your product, just about the buyer. For example, “Because you’re new to your role as Sales VP at XYZ…”
5. Benefit to Prospect
Following the personalization, state a benefit. Not a feature, but an outcome that would benefit the prospect. As much as possible, make it a relevant benefit. If you’ve gathered information about the company or individual you’re calling on, this will be easier and you won’t have to make assumptions. The benefit completes the statement you stated above in personalization. Together, they sound like “Because you’re new to your role as Sales VP at XYZ, you need the sales team to perform at their peak and reach goal.”
6. Solicitation of Buy-In
Here’s where you ask for an appointment. But do not ask a yes/no question, because it’s too easy to say no. Don’t ask “Is now a good time?” or “Can I get a few minutes of your time to tell you about…” That’s just setting yourself up and giving the prospect an easy out.
Instead, say “That’s why I’d like to tell you more about what we do and how we can help. Would you prefer to speak now or at 9:30 tomorrow morning?” Make it an either/or choice. If the prospect is busy both times, they’ll likely offer an alternative time. If they don’t, ask “What time works best for you?”
The 6-part opening should all be spoken at once. That doesn’t mean to race through it. But don’t pause or wait for a response, either. Your goal is to get value matched with your ability to deliver it. All you need to do at this point is create enough interest to earn a follow-up conversation.
Here’s how it flows all together: ““Hi, Bob, my name is Deb and I’m with PFPS. Thank you for taking my call. I’ve helped dozens of sales teams reach and exceed their goals. Because you’re new to your role as Sales VP at XYZ, you need the sales team to perform at their peak and reach goal. That’s why I’d like to tell you more about what we do and how we can help. Would you prefer to speak now or at 9:30 tomorrow morning?”
Other Tips When the Buyer Answers the Phone:
Don’t act surprised or unprepared. People do occasionally answer the phone. If you’re taking a bite of your sandwich, expecting to have enough time before the voice mail beeps, then you’re taking a risk that could cost you the sale. Be ready on every single call.
- Be natural. No one likes or listens to a bored seller who is reading a script or reciting the same lines over and over again. No one wants to engage, either, with a seller who is nervous or apologetic. You have something of value to offer. Be confident and natural as you share this opportunity with buyers.
- Be curious. Follow up your opening with a question.
- You can also use questions in your follow up calls to buyers who suggest that calling back at a later time would be better. Questions engage people and create value.
How Can I Use Questions to Get and Keep the Prospect’s Interest?
Your pitch is not interesting. At least not until it’s directly relevant for the prospect. Questions will enable you to get the information you need to make your pitch relevant.
At the early stages of the buyer/seller relationship, quality questions can also help you in these ways:
Questions build trust. We trust people who are interested enough to ask about us.
Questions can help you qualify the prospect.
Questions demonstrate that you are genuinely focused on meeting the buyer’s needs.
Questions positively differentiate you from other sellers who pitch prematurely.
Questions create an enjoyable Customer Experience that makes you the preferred partner.
Quality questions are not scripted and don’t follow a questionnaire-style formula. Mastering the art of question asking is a critical skill in the Experience Economy where buyers are demanding an “awesome connecting experience” from sellers they choose to do business with.
What Are Some Examples of Questions Used to Open the Sale?
These are questions that were developed and used by SDRs in a SaaS (software as a service) company. Each one was effective in meeting the assignment to grab a prospect’s attention in the first minute of a phone call.
In your role, do people depend on you to reduce or manage expenses?
What are your thoughts about being a trendsetter in your field?
For you, what is most important: low cost, high quality, or speedy installation?
Describe the difference between your ideal solution and your current solution.
What determines whether or not you will meet with a salesperson?
These are five examples of DISCOVER Questions®. What they have in common is that they are both unexpected and thought-provoking. They engage the buyer by creating a moment of instant value. That value is generated by the seller asking a question that the buyer finds interesting enough to ponder and respond to.
Note that not all of these are qualifying questions. Asking too many qualifying questions in a row or too soon can cause a buyer to believe it’s all about you and not for their benefit.
What about Voicemail, Email and Gatekeepers?
The 6-part opening statement offered above also work with voice mail, email, and gatekeepers. You can leave the opening statement as a voice mail. You can send it as an email (assuming you keep it just as brief as the example).
You can also use this opening statement template to tailor your opening to a known gatekeeper. Or you can talk about the person you’d like to reach in third person by saying “Because Bob is new to his role…” This explains the urgency and value for Bob. It increases the likelihood of the gatekeeper booking an appointment in Bob’s calendar or getting Bob to call you back.
The questions above (and others you can craft with similar purposes) also work to increase the response rate and to enlist the gatekeeper as an advocate who believes talking to you will be worthwhile.
To learn more about how to craft and ask purposeful questions, get a copy of DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected – it’s based on field research with both buyers and sellers.
Need some training? The DISCOVER Questions® Sales Accelerator Workshop is customized to your industry and sales team. Also based on buyer research, you'll learn how to open and close more sales